Television Series Review: “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII”

81uwnQbeXvL._SY445_Many actors and actresses have portrayed the lives of Henry VIII and his six wives in modern films and dramas. When asking Tudor nerds which Henry VIII stood out the most, the most popular response is Keith Michell in the 1970s BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII.” I had not heard about this series until I started “Adventures of a Tudor Nerd.” Many people have wanted me to watch the series solely for the performance of Keith Michell, so when a coworker allowed me to borrow her DVD copy of the series, I finally decided it was time to tackle this legendary series.

For those unfamiliar with the older Tudor dramas like this series, it should be noted that the focus is not on sex or bloody battles but on the relationships between Henry and his six wives. Therefore, the costumes and the scenery take a step back in quality that one would expect when compared with modern dramas. I think the English brides’ outfits are well done, but the native gowns for Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves felt a bit off for me.

Keith Michell plays the titular king, but I will discuss his performance later. I want to look at the actresses who played Henry’s six wives. Each episode focuses on each wife’s story, how they became his wife, and how their story ended.

We begin with Katherine of Aragon, played by Annette Crosbie, who was the wife of Prince Arthur, but when he died, Katherine struggled to survive in a foreign land until it was decided that she would marry her former husband’s brother, Henry VIII. The couple seems to be in love until Katherine cannot deliver a son for the king, so he decides it’s time for a divorce, which we call The Great Matter. With Katherine out of royal favor, it is time for Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, played by Dorothy Tutin, to make her appearance. When it comes to Anne Boleyn’s performances, I don’t know if I like Tutin’s portrayal; it just rubbed me the wrong way.

My favorite episode of this series was Jane Seymour, played by Anne Stallybrass, who shows a more complex side to Jane’s story. We see her interacting with the Seymour family and her desire to reunite Henry VIII and his daughter Mary. The way the episode was structured with Jane on her death bed and witnessing flashbacks to her time with Henry VIII, the issue of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the birth of her beloved son Edward. With Jane’s death, we see the more human side of Henry as he is in deep mourning for his beloved queen.

It would be several years until he married again to Anne of Cleves to secure a German Protestant alliance. Anne of Cleves, played by Elvi Hale, is a young woman of average looks and very little money who wants to learn everything she can about England. I like how we are introduced to Hans Holbein in this episode and to see how Anne felt about her marriage and ultimate divorce from Henry VIII.

With the divorce of Anne of Cleves settled, Henry VIII turned his gaze on the young Catherine Howard, played by Angela Pleasence. Catherine is young, naive, and only concerned about being queen and having men fawn over her. It was interesting to see Catherine Howard as a nursemaid to the King and how angry he was with her uncle after her execution. Finally, we are introduced to Henry’s final wife, the devout reformer Catherine Parr, played by Rosalie Crutchley. We witness the end of the King’s reign and the rise of the Seymour family to help the young king Edward VI.

Of course, these stories could not be told without side characters like Thomas Wolsey, Thomas, and Edward Seymour, King Henry VII, Eustace Chapuys, Jane Boleyn, and Will Somers. I was a little surprised that they included torture scenes for Anne Askew and Mark Smeaton, especially since they did not show the execution scenes for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Several small Easter eggs for Tudor fans sprinkled in are quite delightful to discover.

Now, it’s time to discuss the big guy, King Henry VIII, played masterfully by Keith Michell. Before watching this drama, I was only familiar with Keith Michell from his performances in Murder She Wrote and the episodes I would watch with my mom. We begin with Henry as a young king enchanted with Katherine of Aragon. They are madly in love, and it is hard to believe they would ever separate, but they eventually do when Anne Boleyn catches his eye.

Throughout this entire series, we see Michell’s acting range through the rapid emotional change of the king. One minute he could be lovey-dovey, the next raging mad, and then bawling his eyes out. What impressed me the most about Michell’s performance was how we saw Henry VIII’s size and shape change in each episode. As Tudor fans, we have screamed at the TV when we see modern adaptations of Henry VIII that do not meet our standards for what older Henry should look like. Michell exceeds all expectations and gives his audience one of the most believable King Henry VIII performances in modern history.

Overall, I found this a decent show where the political and romantic drama of the reign of King Henry VIII shines through the screen. The queens and the counselors did take a back seat to the titular king, but I did not mind that. If you want to watch a legendary series about the reign of King Henry VIII that does not have the sex and scandals of a modern drama, I highly recommend you watch the BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII,” starring Keith Michell.

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Book Review: “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts

cover264519-medium (1)When we think about those who rose through the ranks to achieve significant titles in the Tudor Court, we instantly think about Thomas Cromwell. However, we should also consider his mentor as one of these great men, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The son of Robert Wolsey, an Ispwich businessman, and his wife, Joan Daundy, who worked hard and ended up being the right-hand man of the young King Henry VIII. The man behind Hampton Court helped start the Great Matter and The Field of Cloth of Gold, Wolsey had numerous achievements. Who was the man behind these significant Tudor moments? This is the question Phil Roberts tries to address in his book, “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Netgalley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this title, it was intriguing to me. I had not read many biographies about Thomas Wolsey, so I was excited to read this book.

Roberts begins by showing how Wolsey has been portrayed in other books and media such as films and TV dramas. He then dives into the complex task of tracking the Wolsey family from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of the Roses, which did feel a tad rushed. I wish he had included some family trees so that his readers could follow along with the different branches of the family.

Wosley had a personal life outside of his public persona with his illegitimate children, his loyal friends, and the enemies he made along the way, including Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Roberts spends a lot of time looking at the different aspects of Wolsey’s life, like his policies, the schools he built in Ispwich, and his own homes. Finally, Roberts explores how Wolsey fell from the good graces of King Henry VIII and the last days filled with anguish as he slowly died from an illness.

Although Roberts presented interesting facts about Thomas Wolsey, I think the structure of his book was a bit all over the place. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time looking into the history of Ispwich and its schools and church, including a lengthy segment about a missing statue, before getting into Wolsey’s life story. I found this information fascinating, but I don’t know if it was important enough to spend that much time on it. These facts would have been more appropriate in a book about Ispwich. Another thing that threw me off was that Roberts did not write this biography in chronological order of the events until the end of this book.

Overall, I thought this book had enlightening factoids about Thomas Wolsey, but it needed some tweaking to make it a brilliant biography. This is a book for someone who knows the general facts about the Cardinal but wants to learn more about this man. If this sounds like you, I recommend you read “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts.

Book Review: “Timeless Falcon- Volume One” by Phillipa Vincent- Connolly

53298476._SY475_Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel into the past? You could interact with your favorite historical figures and truly understand what they were like. You could dine like a king or a commoner, dress to impress and experience everyday life. There would be risks involved, but any history nerd might jump at the chance to explore the past. One lucky history student named Beth Wickers discovers that a ring in her professor’s office allows her to travel back into the past to visit her favorite historical icon, Anne Boleyn. Can Beth help Anne to survive the dangerous Tudor court of Henry VIII? Follow Beth’s adventures in Tudor England in Phillipa Vincent-Connolly’s first historical fiction novel, “Timeless Falcon- Volume One”.

I would like to thank Phillipa Vincent-Connolly for sending me a copy of this book. I was a bit skeptical at first about a historical fiction novel that involved time travel, but it did sound intriguing so I decided to give it a try.

We are first introduced to Beth Wickers as she is experiencing a typical day at her university, studying and attending lectures by Professor Marshall. She finds herself going into Professor Marshall’s office where she finds an extraordinary ring that allows Beth to go back in time, to 1522. There, she finds herself in the colorful home of the Boleyn family, Hever Castle. It all seems like a fanciful dream, that is until Beth encounters the legend herself, Anne Boleyn.

While their first encounter is indeed memorable, I do have some concerns with it, especially when it comes to the time travel idea. My main concerns are that Beth mentions to Anne that she is from the future and she allows Anne to handle objects from the twenty-first century. This is probably me just being nit-picky, but as someone who is a fan of the idea of time travel, I do have issues when a character from one time period flat out says that they are from the future to someone from the past, not to mention allowing them to interact with objects from the future. My understanding is that with time travel, those from the future should be inconspicuous, but in this case, it does work.

Besides the logistics of time travel, I found this story rather enjoyable. It is a charming tale of when a 21st-century girl is thrown into the Tudor era. Her interactions with the past and how she copes with it all is thrilling as you wonder if she will ever get back to her own time and if she can help those who she holds dear. I love how Connolly creates two believable worlds and a protagonist who is so relatable. Beth’s interactions with her family and friends in her time paralleled the interactions with the Boleyn family. I loved how the Boleyns seemed like another family for Beth; Thomas Boleyn welcoming Beth into his home, kind Lady Boleyn, her complex relationship with the ever-charming George Boleyn, and her friendship with Anne that truly lasts centuries. We also see Beth interacting with other famous figures like Jane Parker, Mary Boleyn, Thomas Wolsey, Katherine of Aragon, and the big man himself, King Henry VIII.

I was not sure about this novel when I first read the description because of the time travel element, however, I think it was a delightful read. I think Beth was such a relatable heroine for so many fellow history nerds who would just want to protect their favorite historical figure from any harm. This book will make you question whether you would make the same decisions that Beth does and whether you can protect the integrity of the past. If you want a historical fiction novel about the Tudors that is fun and unlike any novel you have read before, check out, “Timeless Falcon- Volume One” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly. I am looking forward to the next volume to see how far Beth will travel into the past.

Book Review: “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” by Diarmaid MacCulloch

38390462The stories of King Henry VIII and the men around him have fascinated generations of historians, but there was one man who has received a negative reputation for his actions. He was the supposed son of a butcher who rose to be Henry VIII’s right-hand man, until his dramatic fall in July 1540. Thomas Cromwell was credited for helping Henry with his Great Matter, the fall of Anne Boleyn, the establishment of the Church of England, and the disastrous marriage between Henry and Anna of Cleves. Diarmaid MacCulloch has taken on the challenge to figure out who Thomas Cromwell really was by sifting through all remaining archival records that we have from this extraordinary man. It is in this book, “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” that MacCulloch masterfully explores the story of this man who changed English and European history forever.

Personally, I have never read a book about Thomas Cromwell, but I did want to learn more about his role in Henry VIII’s government. I had heard great things about this particular book and I wanted to read a definitive biography about Cromwell. Although at first, I was a bit intimidated reading something so academically written, I am really glad that I embarked on this journey to discover the truth of this much-maligned historical figure.

MacCulloch dives into the life of Cromwell by trying to piece together his early years and his Italian connections in the clothing trade. Cromwell did not receive a normal education of the day as he almost taught himself, which made him appreciate books and literature even more. It was these connections and his hard work which allowed Cromwell to rise to a position where he was working under Thomas Wosley. The lessons that Cromwell learned from Wosley would be beneficial as he took over as the King’s right- hand man after Wolsey’s fall from grace.

It is the decade that Cromwell served as Henry’s administrative polymath that is MacCulloch’s main focus. This part might trip up casual history students as it is very academic. My suggestion, if you are a casual history student, is to take your time to fully understand the steps that Cromwell took to change the political and religious landscape of England to make sure Henry was happy. It was not always an easy task, but with great risks came great rewards, such as the title of Vice-Gerent in Spirituals. Cromwell’s fingerprints could be seen all over the establishment of the Church of England, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the expanding powers of Parliament. There were those who were not exactly thrilled with all of these changes, however, the only opinion that truly mattered was the one that belonged to Henry VIII, and he was happy with Cromwell’s work.

Cromwell was not just a politician, he was a father to a son named Gregory Cromwell. It was interesting to learn that even after his wife died, Thomas Cromwell never remarried and raised Gregory as a single father. It was when Cromwell got involved in Henry’s personal life that matters got tricky for Cromwell. Obviously, many people are familiar with Cromwell’s role with Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace. However, it was the marriage between Henry and Anna of Cleves that would be the incident that brought Cromwell from the pinnacle of power to death’s door.

MacCulloch’s biography is truly a triumph. It is academic, both in its meticulously researched contents and its writing style, yet it remains engaging and thought-provoking. Although at times, this book was challenging, it was one of those books that you feel proud to read. If you want a fabulous book about the life of Thomas Cromwell as well as the changes that he helped create in the Tudor government and the establishment of the Church of England, “Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life” by Diarmaid MacCulloch should be included in your collection.

Book Review: “Tudor Victims of the Reformation” by Lynda Telford

31617175._SX318_The reigns of the Tudor monarchs were full of change, not only in court and in culture, but also when it came to religion. None more so than in the reign of King Henry VIII, especially during the incident known as “The Great Matter”, when the king wanted a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Many people were swept into the chaos of this time, but there are two who were infamous during this time; Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn. These two were adversaries, vying for the attention of the king. They both experienced extreme highs and tragic lows as they navigated the change in England that would be the start of the Reformation. Lynda Telford explores the lives of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, as well as the lives of other people who were caught displeasing King Henry VIII during this tumultuous time in her book, “Tudor Victims of the Reformation”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book to read and review. The title had me intrigued and I really wanted to dive into this interesting book.

Before I started reading this book, I thought that this book was going to be about the entire Tudor dynasty and the stories of the victims of the Reformation, from King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth I. I also thought that this book might touch on the victims of the counter-Reformation during the reign of Queen Mary I. That is not what this book is about. Instead, Telford decided to focus on the lives of two main individuals, Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, ending in 1536. The title seemed rather misleading to me since the main focus of this book is “The Great Matter” rather than the Reformation, which was getting its start at this time, but really didn’t go into full swing in England until later in the Tudor dynasty.

Telford tells the story of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn and how they rose to be by King Henry VIII’s side. Wolsey was a brilliant scholar who rose to prominence in the Catholic church and in the court of the King. He became an ally and advisor to Henry VIII during the early years of his reign. Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn 1st Earl of Wiltshire and an English diplomat. She was able to capture the heart of the king, even though he was still married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Henry decided that after decades of being married to Katherine of Aragon that she would never give him the son that he wanted, so it was only sensible to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. This decision would radically change England and the lives of so many forever, including Wolsey and Anne Boleyn.

As someone who knows the story of “The Great Matter”, the rise and fall of Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, and how these decisions affected England as a whole, this book felt like a review for me. There were points when I did feel like this book was a tad dry, but Telford did add more information from other European sources that helped give a new perspective about this time. Personally, this book felt like a review for me, but for someone who is being introduced to this topic for the first time, this book is a good place to start. If you have just started studying the Tudors and the event known as “The Great Matter”, I would recommend you read Lynda Telford’s book, “Tudor Victims of the Reformation”.